U.S., Australian Leaders Bolster Mutual Security, Economic Goals
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2013 Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with their Australian counterparts here today for discussions that ranged from global security and peaceful denuclearization to humanitarian assistance and investments in cyber and space technology.
The Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations have been the main forum for bilateral talks between the two nations during their 62-year relationship.
The meetings began last night at a dinner with Kerry, Hagel, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Australian Defense Minister David Johnston. This morning the ministers and their American counterparts attended a full-honor wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
After today’s discussions, the leaders signed a statement of principles affirming their shared intent to promote and expand defense and security cooperation in the Asia–Pacific and Indian Ocean region.
“Just a few minutes ago,” Kerry said during a joint press conference after the talks, “my colleagues and I signed a nonbinding statement of principles that will help guide us as we … put together a force posture agreement which will strengthen further the U.S. and Australia relationship over the course of the years to come. And we are trying to … accelerate those negotiations and complete that agreement as rapidly as possible.”
While the talks were going on, Kerry said the United States and Australia were working on emergency assistance efforts in the Philippines, bringing relief to Filipinos whose lives have been devastated by super typhoon Haiyan. The nations are also working closely to address the region's security challenges, including peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
“Today we discussed our shared efforts to reach a political solution with respect to the conflict in Syria. We share the goal of realizing a peaceful resolution not just for the Syrian conflict, through the Geneva discussions,” the secretary added, “but also for the longstanding conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and our efforts … to try to reach a constructive and acceptable agreement with respect to the threat of a nuclear weapon in Iran.”
In the Asia Pacific, the Middle East and around the world, Kerry said, the U.S.-Australia partnership contributes significantly to a mutual search for peace and stability and security.
Kerry mentioned the group’s morning visit to Arlington Cemetery, noting that they paid tribute to the nations’ shared efforts now in Afghanistan and elsewhere to promote democracy and peace.
“These sacrifices between our countries continue even to this day,” the secretary said. “And now we honor the remarkable service of all our men and women in uniform and we reconfirm and restate our commitment to completing the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan national security forces by the end of 2014.”
He added, “I'm pleased to say that in a series of conversations with President [Hamid] Karzai in the course of this morning -- even interrupting some of our conversations -- we reached an agreement as to the final language of the Bilateral Security Agreement that will be placed before the Loya Jirga [Afghan council of elders] tomorrow.”
For his part, Hagel said Australians and Americans have fought side by side in every major conflict over the last 100 years and over the last decade.
“Australia has been the largest non-NATO troop contributor to the war in Afghanistan,” he said. “The American people are grateful to the Australians for Australia's continued commitment to that effort, and we deeply respect the great sacrifices made by the Australian Defense Forces.”
The U.S. side discussed America's force posture initiative with Australia, Hagel said, adding that force posture was announced during President Barack Obama's trip to Canberra in 2011 and the initiatives are on track.
“Two companies of Marines have rotated through Darwin and we have increased exercises between our air forces. Next year, our Marine rotational force near Darwin will expand to 1,100 Marines,” Hagel said.
“We reaffirmed plans for this rotating force to grow,” he added. “These ongoing rotational deployments to Australia are important to making the U.S. military presence in Asia-Pacific more geographically distributed, operationally resilient and politically sustainable.”
Hagel said negotiations will begin next month on a binding agreement that will govern the force posture initiatives and further defense cooperation. The United State and Australia also will work together in new areas like cyber and space, he said.
“Earlier today, Defense Minister Johnston and I signed an agreement to relocate a unique advanced space surveillance telescope to Western Australia,” Hagel said.
The telescope provides highly accurate detection, tracking and identification of deep-space objects, he added, and will strengthen the nations’ existing space cooperation.
“All these steps are helping strengthen our alliance as we continue to work together to face the challenges and opportunities of this new century,” the defense secretary said.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinAFPS)